The 10 Biggest Surprises In Business School

University of Richmond’s Brandon Kunick

5) The Universal Language: Accounting is often called the “language of business.” In reality, Accounting is just one dialect. That was one takeaway for Brandon Kunick, an Accounting major at the University of Richmond. When he worked abroad, he was stunned by how much of what he learned was applicable in a different culture. One reason is that business – at its heart – involves making a connection. To do that, stories are often used to convey basic needs and long-standing truths.

“In business, it is easy to become consumed by the numbers and lose sight of the narrative,” notes Elon University’s Tanisha Gupta. “Prior to my undergraduate coursework, I assumed that business was heavily quantitative, but was surprised to discover how qualitative it really is. Business requires taking numbers and illustrating the analyses through stories. Whether it is economics, finance or management, I realized that the numbers are useless if you cannot weave them into a compelling story.”

Not surprisingly, business training has been a major boon to double majors. That has been the case for Andrew Bower, a Washington University grad and McKinsey hire who also earned a degree in International Affairs.

“My business coursework and problem-solving skills have been very applicable to discussions ranging from development to diplomacy. For example, I frequently applied game theory concepts in my international relations class when discussing rational actor theory.”

6) Not An Easy Major: You’ve heard the cliché: Business is the major for jocks, lost souls, and legacies. Here’s a reality check, says Tulane’s Andrea Goldstein. Business is grounded far more in research than gut feelings.

Many of my peers in STEM-related fields joke that business research is all “fluff” or opinion-based,” she writes. “I genuinely feel that the content and methods I’ve learned from my business majors are logical, clear, and scientifically supported. However, professors are still passionate about what they do and can communicate the value of the research they teach.”

In fact, business may be the best major to prepare you for the real world, say the Class of 2019. Wharton’s Adedotun R. Adejare, for example, compares business majors to historians due to the intensive research required in uncovering facts or decision-making processes. For Michigan State’s Yoodong Hwang, the grades-driven emphasis in other majors doesn’t provide the life experience needed to excel after graduation.

Michigan State’s Yoodong Hwang

“Business is all about the world around you. If you aren’t consistently keeping yourself up-to-date on the information and connections available, it will be evident that you are behind. Building basic habits to find little successes is the key to moving on past college.”

7) Integrity Matters: In the media, business is often portrayed as a negative force, rife with self-interest and corruption. Of course, snarly critics and self-appointed champions always depict themselves as above the fray: devout and pure. Truth is, as Chip Chambers learned as a business major, everyone is capable – susceptible even – to taking shortcuts.

“I’m a firm believer that every decision you make either moves you closer to or further from the type of person you want to become, but often that change is very subtle,” writes the University of Georgia grad. “Enron didn’t fall in a day. It crumbled over years as its people placed money and success above integrity and ethics. And chances are, there are hundreds of Enrons crumbling right now. While we obviously need policy safeguards in place, it’s also incumbent upon us to call ourselves to a higher standard. Integrity over income. Principle over principal.”

8) Collaborate or Deteriorate: Think you can go it alone? Many have tried…but the results haven’t always been pretty. Maybe that was the inspiration behind a famous African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s exactly the philosophy that business schools have embedded in their curriculum – much to the surprise of the Best & Brightest. That’s not by accident: groups are exactly how students will be working after graduation.

“Many of my courses have case studies and group work that helps replicate work found outside of school,” explains Ohio State’s Max Wasserman. “Going into business I pictured people sitting in cubicles at desks behind computers all day. While that is part of business, the real core aspects are more focused on people, relationships and communication.”

9) Make Time To Network: On her first day at Indiana University, Simona Stancov believes she heard “networking” more than two dozen times. It was the secret, people said, to choosing a major and landing an internship. Despite this, Stancov had some reservations about networking. To her, it was uncomfortable if not disingenuous. As time passed, Stancov began to reach out – and the results were stunning.

Indiana University’s Simona Stancov

“As I got into the habit of speaking with professionals and alumni, I started to find our conversations not only enjoyable but energizing. With some thoughtful questions and sincere interest in the life of the person with whom I was speaking, I started to learn more about business than I ever imagined. I discovered what the consulting life actually entails, got tips for navigating male-dominated industries as a woman, and realized just how challenging it can be to facilitate organizational change. The more I networked, the more curious I became and the more meaningful relationships I built.”

10) Who You Are Matters More Than What You Know: Here’s another famous quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That line was penned by poet Maya Angelou. It serves as a testament to soft skills – and the immense value of self-awareness, listening, and empathizing.

When Samuel Hirsch arrived at Syracuse University, he believed the smartest classmates would go on to become the most successful. As he learned, intelligence is only the starting point.

What I have found out is that it takes things like being social, knowing how to shake a hand, keeping eye contact, knowing when’s a good time to talk and when’s not, and other soft skills that will set you apart from the competition.”

What was the biggest surprise for you in business school? Share it in the comments below.


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